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Leafing through a volume of Robert Lowell’s poetry not long ago, I came across some lines that I couldn’t help reading over and over. They were from “Waking Early Sunday Morning” (1967), and they ran this way:
Pity the planet, all joy gone
from this sweet volcanic cone;
peace to our children when
in small war on the heels of
war—until the end of time
to police the earth, a ghost
orbiting forever lost
in our monotonous sublime.
I was taken by the artistry of the lines, by their subtlety and their melancholy grace. I was impressed by the rhymes: “ghost” and “lost,” for instance, create exactly the right haunted and haunting sound. But it was Lowell’s ambition that impressed me; he was looking at the world as though from outer space, like a graying weary seer, and pronouncing judgment. He was calling things as he believed them to be not only for himself but for all his readers. And he was looking into the future.
Download the complete article (PDF): The_Decline_of_American_Verse
In recognition of the “the cruelest month,” here are a few excerpts from English poet Wendy Cope‘s hilarious book, Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, in which she lampoons literary pretensions, including some very funny limerick parodies of T.S. Eliot‘s The Wasteland:
In April one seldom feels cheerful; Dry stones, sun and dust make me fearful; Clairvoyantes distress me, Commuters depress me-- Met Stetson and gave him an earful. She sat on a mighty fine chair, Sparks flew as she tidied her hair; She asks many questions, I make few suggestions-- Bad as Albert and Lil--what a pair! The Thames runs, bones rattle, rats creep; Tiresias fancies a peep-- A typist is laid, A record is played-- Wei la la. After this it gets deep. A Phoenician named Phlebas forgot About birds and his business--the lot, Which is no surprise, Since he'd met his demise And been left in the ocean to rot. No water. Dry rocks and dry throats, Then thunder, a shower of quotes From the Sanskrit and Dante. Da. Damyata. Shantih. I hope you'll make sense of the notes.